30 Jul 2019

Time 3 minutes

Heritage and Businesses: From Yesterday to Today series - The Grand Trunk Buildings

Heritage and Businesses: From Yesterday to Today series - The Grand Trunk Buildings

Old Montreal’s heritage is far from frozen in time; it is diverse, alive, and can be experienced every day. Discover portraits of timeless buildings, each one a page of history proposed by Heritage Montreal as part of a special collaboration with the SDC Old Montreal.

At the turn of the 20th century, more and more skyscrapers and large office buildings were being built on McGill Street. Some of the most successful businesses of the time were the railway companies, which operated extensive networks, of which Montreal was a major hub.

Gérald-Godin Building, 360 McGill Street
Constructed between 1899 and 1902 to plans by American architect Richard A. Waite, this building housed the corporate headquarters of the Grand Trunk Railway. It was near the company’s port facilities, its shops in Pointe-Saint-Charles, and Bonaventure Station, which it owned. Its construction signalled the transformation of McGill Street into an urban thoroughfare lined with imposing office buildings. The decision to clad the façade in buff sandstone from Indiana and grey granite from Stanstead, Quebec, was no accident. The architect’s use of elegant imported stone ensured that the building would stand out from the local Montreal greystone and signify the importance of the Grand Trunk Railway. The architectural vocabulary inspired by the Paris Beaux-Arts school, visible in the symmetry of the façade, the many columns, and the rich decorative elements, both exterior and interior, also speaks to the battle for prestige amongst the rail companies of the time.

The building was originally designed to house 500 Grand Trunk employees. It was purchased by the Government of Quebec in 1961, after the Canadian National Railway Company (which had absorbed Grand Trunk in 1922) moved its head office to a building near Central Station. Today, it bears the name of Quebec poet and politician Gérald Godin, who served as provincial minister of immigration, and is still home to administrative offices.

Canadian Express Building, 351–355 McGill Street
Like it rivals, the Grand Trunk Railway had subsidiaries, one of which was Canadian Express, specialized in banking transport and the issuing of traveller’s cheques. It originally occupied the lower floors of the Grand Trunk Building, and later, in 1918, the entirety of a majestic skyscraper on the other side of McGill Street. Built between 1906 and 1908, it was the work of the architecture firm of Hutchison & Wood. Clad in buff sandstone quarried in Ohio, the skyscraper also features an elegant vocabulary, but is more ornate and eclectic than the Gérald-Godin Building. The spirit of the Beaux-Arts style is easily perceived, as are elements inspired by Classical and French Renaissance architecture, along with some Baroque borrowings. Fun fact: the building is connected to the Grand Trunk Building across the street by a tunnel, which conveys steam heating!

The Quebec government bought this building in 1961 as well, and used it for offices. It later stood vacant for 15 years or so. In 2000, full renovations were undertaken in order to repurpose it as a boutique hotel. Le Saint-Paul opened in 2001 and received the Award for Heritage Enhancement for exemplary restoration of a historic building.